Scotland politics

Scotland 'needs free movement' post-Brexit

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn was pressed to explain his stance on immigration after the UK leaves the EU

Scottish Labour's deputy leader has said it will be important not to restrict freedom of movement after the UK leaves the EU.

Alex Rowley was speaking as the party's UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, sought to clarify his position on immigration.

Mr Corbyn is due to say in a speech that he is not "wedded to the idea" of free movement of people after Brexit.

But he has also stressed that he does not believe immigration to the UK is too high.

Mr Corbyn told the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg that he was not proposing new restrictions on the rights of people to move to the UK.

Instead, he said he wanted an end to foreign workers being exploited in the UK under EU employment rules, which, he said, would "probably" cut numbers.

In his speech, Mr Corbyn was expected to say: "Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle...but I don't want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out."

He will add: "Labour supports fair rules and the reasonable management of migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU, while putting jobs and living standards first in the negotiations."

'Honest discussion'

It came as Mr Rowley insisted economic migration had been "good for Scotland" as he launched Scottish Labour's "vision for local government" ahead of the council elections in May.

Mr Rowley told BBC Scotland: "We think there should be an honest discussion about Brexit, and how we move forward from here.

"We believe that people are concerned when they look at the difficulty they have in trying to access public services - but the answer to that is not to blame the free movement of labour, the answer is to invest in public services.

"So we're clear that economic migration has been good for Scotland, we need to be able to maintain the free movement of labour in Scotland and we need to invest in public services."

Image caption Alex Rowley will head Scottish Labour's council election campaign

Mr Corbyn has also said he would like to see a cap on the maximum amount people can earn, arguing that it was indefensible for chief executives of some of the UK's largest companies to be earning 100 times what their employees were taking home.

Mr Rowley said the proposal was "interesting" and that a discussion on the issue "should not be dismissed".

He said the gap between high earners and those at the bottom of the pay scale had "grown incredibly over a period of years".

And he added: "What we're saying here is we would use the powers of the Scottish Parliament and those who earn more, pay more, that's the policy of the Scottish Labour Party."

Restricting immigration

The former leader of Fife council will head up Scottish Labour's council election campaign, which will be a key contest for the party after it slipped behind the Tories to become the third-largest party at Holyrood in 2016.

On Sunday, Theresa May told Sky News it would not be possible to hold on to "bits" of EU membership after Brexit, leading to widespread reporting that she was moving towards leaving the European single market, with restricting immigration a priority.

Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, responded by claiming Mrs May has "no plan" for leaving the EU, and said the prime minister was prioritising "appeasing right-wing Brexiteers" over the UK's national interests.

Ms Sturgeon has suggested that a so-called soft Brexit - where the UK retains access to the single market - would see the prospect of Scottish independence "put aside" in the short term.